More than 20,000 acres of land in Western South Dakota will be protected from new mining claims for a minimum of two years while the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management study the impacts of mining on natural and cultural resources in the Black Hills.
The USFS announced Friday they've submitted an application for a 20-year withdrawal from, "location, entry, appropriation, and disposal under the mining laws and the mineral and geothermal leasing laws, subject to valid existing rights." BLM is set to publish the application on the Federal Register on Tuesday, March 21, which sets in motion a two-year segregation period from mining activities and opens a 90-day public comment period.
Consultation with tribes, state and local officials, as well as public meetings are expected during that window.
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“The BLM is pleased to work with the USDA Forest Service on this effort,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning in a press release. “This proposal will help protect a primary source of drinking water for South Dakotans as the Forest Service assesses a 20-year withdrawal.”
The two-year pause will allow both organizations the chance to hear public comments and to conduct a scientific study of the impacts of mineral exploration and development. BLM processes the applications for the U.S. Department of the Interior, which makes the final determination on a maximum 20-year withdrawal. Only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.
In a press release, the USFS said the pause will allow for the opportunity to support science-based decision-making that balances sustainable domestic mineral development and natural resource conservation.
“The Pactola Reservoir and the Rapid Creek watershed provides drinking water for Pennington County, Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base, representing the second largest population center in South Dakota,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “The Pactola Reservoir area includes valued cultural and natural resources important to tribes and local communities. We’re going to study the feasibility of withdrawing lands in the area because any activity that might affect these critical resources deserves a thorough review.”
Western South Dakota is no stranger to mining activity, with more than 18% of land in the Black Hills currently under mining claims, according to the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance. The Wharf Mine near Lead is a large-scale gold mine currently in operation; Coeur Wharf got approval from Lawrence County for a 47-acre expansion last February. A Colorado company is proposing 23 exploratory drilling sites for gold on the western edge of Spearfish Canyon, while a proposed exploratory drilling site near Custer brought hundreds together in opposition just last month.
Residents in Fall River County successfully drove away a potential uranium mine after declaring such activities as a nuisance; they're still battling the Dewey-Burdock Project northwest of Edgemont.
The proposal has the BHCWA "delighted," but it's just a start, organizers said.
"We would like to see a much larger area withdrawn, as the area they propose to withdraw is just the area immediately around Pactola," said Dr. Lilias Jarding with the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance. "The potential problems from mining and exploration stretch substantially further."
Jarding encouraged people in the area to submit their comments, attend meetings and continue to push the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to approve the withdrawal.
The USFS and the BLM will hold a joint public meeting on Wednesday, April 26 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel's Conference Hall, 2111 N. LaCrosse Street in Rapid City.
Comments can be submitted online at cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public/CommentInput?project=NP-3479 until midnight on Monday, June 19.
Contact Darsha Dodge at email@example.com